I can actually use the word “cinematic” because today we're shooting on a cinema lens. Not just any cinema lens, but an anamorphic cinema lens. One of the key giveaways that I was shooting on an anamorphic lens is the distortion and the lens flares that come along with this lens, but first I want to dive a little bit into what it means to use an anamorphic lens and why you'd even want to use one in the first place.
What is Anamorphic?
This is the Sirui 35mm Venus anamorphic T2.9 1.6x anamorphic lens. Sometimes you may see videos that fake an anamorphic lens, and that's when you get the black bars on the top and the bottom. But when you have a lens like this, you will be able to capture super wide photos and videos like what you saw in the intro. Those black bars are actually what this lens captures: the optical elements inside the lens enable you to take what you would normally capture, but it captures a little bit more and then squishes it down so that it fits onto the sensor of whatever type of camera that you're shooting on.
If we back up even farther, anamorphic lenses were invented to shoot originally with film cameras. The dimensions of 35mm film are a 3:2 aspect ratio (or about 36mm x 24mm). Most anamorphic lenses are about a 1.33x factor, the aspect ratio goes from 3:2 and stretches out to 2:1 if you apply that to film.
On the other hand, if you apply a 1.33x anamorphic lens to a standard digital camera that shoots video at 16x9, your video will then stretch out to roughly 2.35:1 or even 2.39:1.
With a 1.6x, we're even wider than that, which is about a 2.8:1 ratio.
So essentially you get more field of view. Basically with this 35mm lens, you can capture what a 24mm or even a 20mm lens can get.
One of the byproducts of the anamorphic lens is the lens flares and the optical distortions shown in some of the footage. The entire video you saw at the beginning was shot on the anamorphic lens except for one drone shot.
Anamorphic lens for photography
A question some of you may have is whether you can use an anamorphic lens to shoot photos. The answer is kind of. There are some disadvantages to this lens that make it difficult to shoot traditional portraits, particularly the fact that it is a super wide image. So if you're going to take still photos with it, they kind of turn out looking like stills from a movie which may or may not work for the types of photos and portraits that you expected.
When you compare it to a more traditional spherical lens, the latter is a lot more suitable for shooting portrait orientation, whereas with the anamorphic lens, you will probably get a really thin strip of a portrait that maybe doesn't work for what you're trying to do.
Disadvantages and Quirks of an Anamorphic Lens
One of the other disadvantages of this lens is the minimum focus distance: it’s about three feet or 0.9m and that’s pretty far.
Besides, it’s a cinema lens, meaning that it's fully manual. There are gears on the lens, one for the focus ring and the other for the aperture ring. When you connect this lens to your camera, there are no digital contacts on the back of the lens, which means that the camera doesn't know that it's attached. You will have to go into your camera and tell it to release the shutter without a lens attached in order to take photos or videos.
I will say shooting in manual is a little bit of an acquired skill. I'm just so used to those high-tech modern lenses that have image stabilization, autofocus and digital control rings, whereas this lens is completely manual. Sometimes it can be super fun to grab some of these older camera lenses and just throw them on your camera and try focusing to see how good of a job you can do, compared to the autofocus system.
Admittedly, this camera lens is a little bit tricky to use. We talked about that 1.6x squeezed factor, and this is basically what it looks like on the back screen or through the viewfinder of your camera, which means you have to scale it horizontally or squish it down vertically in your video editing software to make it look normal.
If you’re working with Lightroom, you can’t de-squeeze the image directly, so you have to export each of the photos individually to Photoshop, stretch it out there, and then re-import it to Lightroom to edit it in a regular-looking way.
All of these disadvantages might not matter considering the cost of this lens, which is relatively affordable at only $1500. Most anamorphic lenses are actually two to three times more expensive - we're talking three thousand plus dollars - the Sirui lens is a budget-friendly entry-level anamorphic lens that kind of gets your foot wet and allows you to experiment a little bit with anamorphic lenses without having to go super crazy with super expensive lenses. Compared to my Canon 15-35mm RF lens which is twice as expensive, and has image stabilization, autofocus motors, and a motor for the aperture, this Sirui lens has absolutely no motor. So you're kind of sacrificing all those little modern conveniences like the automatic features that my RF lenses have for a nice quality and unique lens in a relatively affordable package.
Build and Image Quality
I do think that it's a well-built lens. This lens has an 82 mm thread: I prefer this form factor with the larger threads - compared to other Sirui anamorphic lenses built with a 58mm thread - because I don't have to adapt it to my ND filters or buy weird adapters, I can just use the lens filters that I already have.
When it comes to artifacts and lens distortion inside of this lens, we know that this lens creates lens flares. It wasn't as easy to create the lens flares as I thought it would be: it only happened around either super bright light sources or when I had a high amount of contrast in my scene like in some of these night photos where we're holding the light and then everything else is pitch dark.
When it comes to the bokeh and the background artifacts, I actually had a hard time getting distinct bokeh. That's because we're looking at a minimum focus distance that's three feet, also I wasn't really in a situation where I had background elements that were glowing or lighting up. But if you do, what you can expect is to get a spherical bokeh element. They're not circles like what you would get on other camera lenses but are more like cat's eye oval shapes.
Another thing is the bowing or the warping that occurs at the edges of the frame. This is a feature of the stretching of the anamorphic footage, essentially what happens is straight lines kind of get bowed out. It's not so obvious when we're shooting in the forest, but it's a lot more obvious in these photos where there's a frame or something in the background with straight lines.
Another thing to worry about is image stabilization. I used a cage with a handle so that I had multiple points of contact and was able to keep my footage a little bit more steady. In some cases, I used warp stabilization on some of my footage, but in others, you'll notice some edge shearing when I paired the anamorphic lens with the camera. It's kind of like someone was taking the edges of the frame and shearing it back and forth, or shaking it a little bit. That is unfortunately unavoidable regardless of what camera system you're shooting on because the image stabilization inside of these Canon cameras is designed to work with the RF lenses, so it's just kind of an accepted artifact of this type of shooting.
Who is this Lens for?
Well, firstly who it's not for is short-form content creators. For short-form content you have to shoot vertically, whereas this lens is optimized for anyone who wants to shoot horizontally.
Personally, I believe it's possible to use it for creative photo shoots, but just keep in mind that you can't get super up close and personal with any sort of details due to the minimum focus distance.
If you're someone who is a video-first shooter, you want to try something different and you've been thinking about getting into anamorphic camera lenses, this is the best option now in the market for it's way more affordable than other options.
If you do want to overcome the limits of the minimum focus distance, I think you should probably pick it up with a 50mm or a 100mm anamorphic lens. That way you can swap back and forth from a wide shot on the 35mm to a more tight telephoto shot on something like a 100mm lens.